How can today's DBAs contribute to big data databases?

In the big data puzzle, data scientists and NoSQL are all the rage. Find out how traditional DBAs fit in, and what they have to do to stay there.

It's safe to say that big data is big news. And with all this talk around unstructured data and advanced analytics, I'd think that some Oracle and other relational database administrators (DBAs) might feel a little left out of the loop. So, can they have a role in managing big data databases?

The answer is, of course they can. No matter what kind of information is getting handled, DBAs bring plenty of crucial data management, performance troubleshooting and reporting capabilities. But as with anything else, putting on blinders and hoping you never have to deal with unstructured data is a mistake.

The impetus for looking into this topic was a webinar hosted last week by the Independent Oracle Users Group (IOUG).The webinar, titled Big data -- Getting started and making an impact, was led by Ian Abramson, director of the enterprise data group at Newtown, Pa.-based IT consultancy EPAM Systems and a former IOUG president. At the end of the webinar, an attendee asked what an Oracle DBA can bring to big data.

"Can I say, 'nothing'?" Abramson answered.

That took me aback. I was surprised that Abramson would say that not one of an Oracle DBA's skills could translate to big data databases. Can that be true? After his initial response, Abramson backed off a little.

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"The approach for how to manage data is something they will bring with them," he said. "But the truth is that this is a very different technology." He later added that big data is a "very different environment for how data is used."

I think Abramson's latter statements are more accurate. Big data is a different way of viewing and managing data, but that doesn't mean traditional DBAs will be left out of the loop. Take the IOUG's own survey on big data, conducted last year. It concluded that DBAs, IT managers and people in other IT roles are already taking on many of the skills associated with big data or data scientists. Those skills include telling a story with data, translating business needs into analytic and reporting requirements, and enabling forecasting and prediction.

"Most data professionals are already assuming skills and day-to-day responsibilities that tend to be associated with data scientists' or analysts' roles -- such as the ability to identify and surface data that is important to the business," the report concluded.

None of this means that DBAs should rest on their laurels. I participated in a Tweet Jam last week with that in mind. A Tweet Jam is basically when a bunch of people get together on Twitter for a set amount of time and talk about a specific topic. I took part in one hosted by a sister TechTarget site,, that included the hashtag #TalkingBigData so everyone could be on the same page. We had two prominent data experts on hand for the Tweet Jam: Wayne Eckerson from TechTarget and Boris Evelson from Forrester Research.

I asked each of them what skills a DBA can bring to a big data project:

The truth is DBAs already have many of the skills that will apply to this new world of databases. Data scientists might be getting all the press, and big-data hype enthusiasts love to inflate the importance of unstructured data. But that doesn't mean the death knell of the DBA.

At the same time, it would be a gross misjudgment to think that your current DBA skills alone will keep you relevant in the world of big data.

Mark Fontecchio may be reached at [email protected]. Follow SearchOracle on Twitter and Facebook.

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